Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

Article Index

I. Dress Regulation by Law

Who would think of writing a book on woman without including some description of dress? Apparently the colonial woman, like her modern sister, found beautiful clothing a subject near and dear to the heart; but evidently the feminine nature of those old days did not have such hunger so quickly or so thoroughly answered as in our own times. The subject certainly did not then receive the printed notice now granted it, and it is rather clear that a much smaller proportion of the bread winner's income was used on gay apparel. And yet we shall note the same hue and cry among colonial men that we may hear to-day--that women are dress-crazy, and that the manner and expense of woman's dress are responsible for much of the evil of the world.

 

We should not be greatly surprised, then, to discover that early in the history of the colonies the magistrates tried zealously to regulate the style and cost of female clothing. The deluded Puritan elders, who believed that everything could and should be controlled by law, even attempted until far into the eighteenth century to decide just how women should array themselves. But the eternal feminine was too strong for the law makers, and they ultimately gave up in despair. Both in Virginia and New England such rules were early given a trial. Thus, in the old court records we run across such statements as the following: "Sep. 27, 1653, the wife of Nicholas Maye of Newbury, Conn., was presented for wearing silk cloak and scarf, but cleared proving her husband was worth more than £200." In some of the Southern settlements the church authorities very shrewdly connected fine dress with public spiritedness and benevolence, and declared that every unmarried man must be assessed in church according to his own apparel, and every married man according to his own and his wife's apparel.[128] Again in 1651 the Massachusetts court expressed its "utter detestation that men and women of meane condition, education and calling should take upon them the garbe of gentlemen by wearinge of gold or silver lace or buttons or poynts at their knees, or walke in great boots, or women of the same ranke to wear silke or tiffany hoods or scarfs."

A large number of persons were indeed "presented" under this law, and it is plain that the officers of the times were greatly worried over this form of earthly pride; but as the settlements grew older the people gradually silenced the magistrates, and each person dressed as he or she, especially the latter, chose.


 

II. Contemporary Descriptions

The result is that we find more references to dress in the eighteenth century than in the previous one. The colonists had become more prosperous, a little more worldly, and certainly far less afraid of the wrath of God and the judges. As travel to Europe became safer and more common, visitors brought new fashions, and provincialism in manner, style, and costume became much less apparent. Madame Knight, who wrote an account of her journey from Boston to New York in 1704, has left some record of dress in the different colonies. Of the country women in Connecticut she says: "They are very plain in their dress, throughout all the colony, as I saw, and follow one another in their modes; that you may know where they belong, especially the women, meet them where you will." And see her description of the dress of the Dutch women of New York: "The English go very fashionable in their dress. But the Dutch, especially the middling sort, differ from our women in their habit, go loose, wear French muches, which are like a cap and a head band in one, leaving their ears bare, which are set out with jewels of a large size, and many in number; and their fingers hooked with rings, some with large stones in them of many colors, as were their pendants in their ears, which you should see very old women wear as well as young."

As Mrs. Knight was so observant of how others dressed, let us take a look at her own costume, as described in Brooks' _Dames and Daughters of Colonial Days_: "Debby looked with curious admiring eyes at the new comer's costume, the scarlet cloak and little round cap of Lincoln green, the puffed and ruffled sleeves, the petticoat of green-drugget cloth, the high heeled leather shoes, with their green ribbon bows, and the riding mask of black velvet which Debby remembered to have heard, only ladies of the highest gentility wore."[129]

The most famous or most dignified of colonial gentlemen were not above commenting upon woman's dress. Old Judge Sewall mingled with his accounts of courts, weddings, and funerals such items as: "Apr. 5, 1722. My Wife wore her new Gown of sprig'd Persian." Again, we note the philosopher-statesman, Franklin, discoursing rather fluently to his wife about dress, and, from what we glean, he seems to have been pretty well informed on matters of style. Thus in 1766 he wrote: "As the Stamp Act is at length repeal'd, I am willing you should have a new Gown, which you may suppose I did not send sooner, as I knew you would not like to be finer than your neighbours, unless in a Gown of your own spinning. Had the trade between the two Countries totally ceas'd, it was a Comfort to me to recollect, that I had once been cloth'd from Head to Foot in Woolen and Linnen of my Wife's Manufacture, that I never was prouder of any Dress in my Life, and that she and her Daughter might do it again if it was necessary.... Joking apart, I have sent you a fine Piece of Pompadore Sattin, 14 Yards, cost 11 shillings a Yard; a silk Negligee and Petticoat of brocaded Lutestring for my dear Sally, with two dozen Gloves...."[130]

A letter dated from London, 1758, reads: ... "I send also 7 yards of printed Cotton, blue Ground, to make you a Gown. I bought it by Candle-Light, and lik'd it then, but not so well afterwards. If you do not fancy it, send it as a present from me to sister Jenny. There is a better Gown for you, of flower'd Tissue, 16 yards, of Mrs. Stevenson's Fancy, cost 9 Guineas and I think it a great Beauty. There was no more of the sort or you should have had enough for a Negligee or Suit."[131]

And again: "Had I been well, I intended to have gone round among the shops and bought some pretty things for you and my dear, good Sally (whose little hands you say eased your headache) to send by this ship, but I must now defer it to the next, having only got a crimson satin cloak for you, the newest fashion, and the black silk for Sally; but Billy sends her a scarlet feather, muff, and tippet, and a box of fashionable linen for her dress...."[132]

He sends her also in 1758 "a newest fashion'd white Hat and Cloak and sundery little things, which I hope will get safe to hand. I send a pair of Buckles, made of French Paste Stones, which are next in Lustre to Diamonds...."[133]

Abigail Adams also has left us rather detailed descriptions of her dresses prepared for various special occasins. Thus, after being presented at the English Court, she wrote home: "Your Aunt then wore a full dress court cap without the lappets, in which was a wreath of white flowers, and blue sheafs, two black and blue flat feathers, pins, bought for Court, and a pair of pearl earings, the cost of them--no matter what--less than diamonds, however. A sapphire blue demi-saison with a satin stripe, sack and petticoat trimmed with a broad black lace; crape flounce, & leave made of blue ribbon, and trimmed with white floss; wreaths of black velvet ribbon spotted with steel beads, which are much in fashion, and brought to such perfection as to resemble diamonds; white ribbon also in the van dyke style, made up of the trimming, which looked very elegant, a full dress handkerchief, and a bouquet of roses.... Now for your cousin: A small, white leghorn hat, bound with pink satin ribbon; a steel buckle and band which turned up at the side, and confined a large pink bow; large bow of the same kind of ribbon behind; a wreath of full-blown roses round the crown, and another of buds and roses within side the hat, which being placed at the back of the hair brought the roses to the edge; you see it clearly; one red and black feather, with two white ones, compleated the head-dress. A gown and coat of chamberi gauze with a red satin stripe over a pink waist, and coat flounced with crape, trimmed with broad point and pink ribbon; wreaths of roses across the coat; gauze sleeves and ruffles."[134]

Although it is absolutely impossible for a man to form the picture, this sounds as though it were elegant. Again she writes: "Cousin's dress is white, ... like your aunts, only differently trimmed and ornamented; her train being wholly of white crape, and trimmed with white ribbon; the petticoat, which is the most showy part of the dress, covered and drawn up in what are called festoons, with light wreaths of beautiful flowers; the sleeves white crape, drawn over silk, with a row of lace round the sleeve near the shoulder, another half way down the arm, and a third upon the top of the ruffle, a little flower stuck between; a kind of hat-cap, with three large feathers, and a bunch of flowers; a wreath of flowers upon the hair."[135]

It is apparent that no large amount of Puritanical scruples about fine array had passed over into eighteenth century America. Whether in New England, the Middle Colonies, or the South, the natural longing of woman for ornamentation and beautiful adornment had gained supremacy, and from the records we may judge that some ladies of those days expended an amount on clothing not greatly out of proportion with the amount spent to-day by the well-to-do classes. For instance, in Philadelphia, we find a Miss Chambers adorned as follows: "On this evening, my dress was white brocade silk, trimmed with silver, and white silk high-heeled shoes, embroidered with silver, and a light-blue sash with silver and tassel, tied at the left side. My watch was suspended at the right, and my hair was in its natural curls. Surmounting all was a small white hat and white ostrich feather, confined by brilliant band and buckle."[136]


 

III. Raillery and Scolding

Of course, the colonial man found woman's dress a subject for jest; what man has not? Certainly in America the custom is of long standing. Old Nathaniel Ward, writing in 1647 in his _Simple Cobbler of Aggawam_, declares: "It is a more common than convenient saying that nine tailors make a man; it were well if nineteen could make a woman to her mind. If tailors were men indeed well furnished, but with more moral principles, they would disdain to be led about like apes by such mimic marmosets. It is a most unworthy thing for men that have bones in them to spend their lives in making fiddle-cases for futilous women's fancies; which are the very pettitoes of infirmity, the giblets of perquisquilian toys.... It is no little labor to be continually putting up English women into outlandish casks; who if they be not shifted anew once in a few months grow too sour for their husbands.... He that makes coats for the moon had need take measure every noon, and he that makes for women, as often to keep them from lunacy."

Indeed Ward becomes genuinely excited over the matter, and says some really bitter things: "I shall make bold for this once to borrow a little of their long-waisted but short skirted patience.... It is beyond the ken of my understanding to conceive, how those women should have any true grace, or valuable virtue, that have so little wit as to disfigure themselves with such exotic garbes, as not only dismantle their native lovely lustre, but transclouts them into gant-bar-geese, ill shapen-shotten-shell-fish, Egyptian Hyeroglyphics, or at the best French flirts of the pastery, which a proper English woman should scorn with her heels...."

The raillery became more frequent and certainly much more good-natured in the eighteenth century. Philip Fithian, a Virginia tutor, writing in 1773, said in his _Diary_: "Almost every Lady wears a red Cloak; and when they ride out they tye a red handkerchief over their Head and face, so that when I first came into Virginia, I was distressed whenever I saw a Lady, for I thought she had the toothache."

In fact, the subject sometimes inspired the men to poetry, as may be seen from the following specimen:

      "Young ladies, in town, and those that live 'round, Let a friend at this season advise you; Since money's so scarce, and times growing worse, Strange things may soon hap and surprise you.

      "First, then, throw aside your topknots of pride, Wear none but your own country linen, Of Economy boast, let your pride be the most, To show clothes of your own make and spinning.

      "What if home-spun, they say, is not quite so gay As brocades, yet be not in a passion, For when once it is known, this is much worn in town, One and all will cry out--''Tis the fashion.'

             *       *       *       *       *

      "Throw aside your Bohea and your Green Hyson tea, And all things with a new-fashion duty; Procure a good store of the choice Labrador For there'll soon be enough here to suit you.

      "These do without fear, and to all you'll appear Fair, charming, true, lovely, and clever, Tho' the times remain darkish, your men may be sparkish, And love you much stronger than ever."[137]

A perusal of extracts from newspapers of those days makes it clear that a good many men were of the opinion that more simplicity in dress would indeed make women "fair, charming, true, lovely, and clever." The _Essex Journal_ of Massachusetts of the late eighteenth century, commenting upon the follies common to "females"--vanity, affectation, talkativeness, etc.,--adds the following remarks on dress: "Too great delight in dress and finery by the expense of time and money which they occasion in some instances to a degree beyond all bounds of decency and common sense, tends naturally to sink a woman to the lowest pitch of contempt amongst all those of either sex who have capacity enough to put two thoughts together. A creature who spends its whole time in dressing, prating, gaming, and gadding, is a being--originally indeed of the rational make, but who has sunk itself beneath its rank, and is to be considered at present as nearly on a level with the monkey species...."

Even pamphlets and small books were written on the subject by ireful male citizens, and the publisher of the _Boston News Letter_ braved the wrath of womankind by inserting the following advertisement in his paper: "Just published and Sold by the Printer hereof, HOOP PETTICOATS, Arraigned and condemned by the Light of Nature and Law of God."[138] Many a scribbler hiding behind some Latin pen name, such as Publicus, poured forth in those early papers his spleen concerning woman's costume. Thus in 1726 the _New England Weekly Journal_ published a series of essays on the vanities of females, and the writer evidently found much relief in delivering himself on those same hoop skirts: "I shall not busy myself with the ladies' shoes and stockings at all, but I can't so easily pass over the Hoop when 'tis in my way, and therefore I must beg pardon of my fair readers if I begin my attack here. 'Tis now some years since this remarkable fashion made a figure in the world and from its first beginning divided the public opinion as to its convenience and beauty. For my part I was always willing to indulge it under some restrictions: that is to say if 'tis not a rival to the dome of St. Paul's to incumber the way, or a tub for the residence of a new Diogenes. If it does not eclipse too much beauty above or discover too much below. In short, I am for living in peace, and I am afraid a fine lady with too much liberty in this particular would render my own imagination an enemy to my repose."

Perhaps, however, in this particular instance, men had some excuse for their tirade; it may have come as a matter of self-preservation. We can more readily understand their feelings when we learn the size of the cause of it. In October, 1774, after Margaret Hutchinson had been presented at the Court of St. James, she wrote her sister: "We called for Mrs. Keene, but found that one coach would not contain more than two such mighty hoops; and papa and Mr. K. were obliged to go in another coach."

But hoops and bonnets and other extravagant forms of dress were not the only phases of woman's adornment that startled the men and fretted their souls. The very manner in which the ladies wore their hair caused their lords and masters to run to the newspaper with a fresh outburst of contempt. In 1731 some Massachusetts citizen with more wrath than caution expressed himself thus: "I come now to the Head Dress--the very highest point of female eloquence, and here I find such a variety of modes, such a medley of decoration, that 'tis hard to know where to fix, lace and cambrick, gauze and fringe, feathers and ribbands, create such a confusion, occasion such frequent changes that it defies art, judgement, or taste to recommend them to any standard, or reduce them to any order. That ornament of the hair which is styled the Horns, and has been in vogue so long, was certainly first calculated by some good-natured lady to keep her spouse in countenance."[139]

This last statement proved too much; it was the straw that broke the camel's back; even the meek colonial women could not suffer this to go unanswered. In the next number of the same paper appeared the following, written probably by some high-spirited dame: "You seem to blame us for our innovations and fleeting fancy in dress which you are most notoriously guilty of, who esteem yourselves the mighty, wise, and head of the species. Therefore, I think it highly necessary that you show us the example first, and begin the reformation among yourselves, if you intend your observations shall have any with us. I leave the world to judge whether our petticoat resembles the dome of St. Paul's nearer than you in your long coats do the Monument. You complain of our masculine appearance in our riding habits, and indeed we think it is but reasonable that we should make reprisals upon you for the invasion of our dress and figure, and the advances you make in effeminency, and your degeneracy from the figure of man. Can there be a more ridiculous appearance than to see a smart fellow within the compass of five feet immersed in a huge long coat to his heels with cuffs to the arm pits, the shoulders and breast fenced against the inclemencies of the weather by a monstrous cape, or rather short cloak, shoe toes, pointed to the heavens in imitation of the Lap-landers, with buckles of a harnass size? I confess the beaux with their toupee wigs make us extremely merry, and frequently put me in mind of my favorite monkey both in figure and apishness, and were it not for a reverse of circumstances, I should be apt to mistake it for Pug, and treat him with the same familiarity."[140]


 

IV. Extravagance in Dress

To all appearances it was less safe in colonial days for mere man to comment on female attire than at present; for the typical gentlemen before 1800 probably wore as many velvets, brocades, satins, laces, and wigs as any woman of the day or since. Each sex, however, wasted more than enough of both time and money on the matter. Grieve, the translator of Chastellux, the Frenchman who made rather extensive observations in America at the close of the Revolution, says in a footnote to Chastellux's _Travels_: "The rage for dress amongst the women in America, in the very height of the miseries of the war, was beyond all bounds; nor was it confined to the great towns; it prevailed equally on the sea coasts and in the woods and solitudes of the vast extent of country from Florida to New Hampshire. In travelling into the interior parts of Virginia I spent a delicious day at an inn, at the ferry of the Shenandoah, or the Catacton Mountains, with the most engaging, accomplished and voluptuous girls, the daughters of the landlord, a native of Boston transplanted thither, who with all the gifts of nature possessed the arts of dress not unworthy of Parisian milliners, and went regularly three times a week to the distance of seven miles, to attend the lessons of one DeGrace, a French dancing master, who was making a fortune in the country."[141]

Such a statement must not, of course, be taken too seriously; for, as we have seen, many women, such as Mrs. Washington, Abigail Adams, and Eliza Pinckney, were almost parsimonious in dress during the great strife. Doubtless there were many, however, particularly in the cities, who could not or would not restrain their love of finery, especially when so many handsome and gaily uniformed British officers were at hand. But long before and after the Revolution there seems to have been no lack of fashionable clothing. The old diaries and account books tell the tale. Thus, Washington has left us an account of articles ordered from London for his wife. Among these were "a salmon-colored tabby velvet of the enclosed pattern, with satin flowers, to be made in a sack and coat, ruffles to be made of Brussels lace or Point, proper to be worn with the above _negligee_, to cost £20; 2 pairs of white silk hose; 1 pair of white satin shoes of the smallest fives; 1 fashionable hat or bonnet; 6 pairs woman's best kid gloves; 6 pairs mitts; 1 dozen breast-knots; 1 dozen most fashionable cambric pocket handkerchiefs; 6 pounds perfumed powder; a puckered petticoat of fashionable color; a silver tabby velvet petticoat; handsome breast flowers;..." For little Miss Custis was ordered "a coat made of fashionable silk, 6 pairs of white kid gloves, handsome egrettes of different sorts, and one pair of pack thread stays...."[142]

These may seem indeed rather strange gifts for a mere girl; but we should remember that children of that day wore dresses similar to those of their mothers, and such items as high-heeled shoes, heavy stays, and enormous hoop petticoats were not at all unusual. Many things unknown to the modern child were commonly used by the daughters of the wealthier parents, such as long-armed gloves and complexion masks, made of linen or velvet, and sun-bonnets sewed through the hair and under the neck--all this to ward off every ray of the sun, and thus preserve the delicate complexion of childhood.

That we may judge of the quality and quantity of a girl's apparel in those fastidious days, examine this list of clothes sent by Colonel John Lewis of Virginia in 1727 to be used by his ward, in an English school:

  "A cap ruffle and tucker, the lace 5 shillings per yard, 1 pair White Stays, 8 pair White Kid gloves, 2 pair coloured kid gloves, 2 pair worsted hose, 3 pair thread hose, 1 pair silk shoes laced, 1 pair morocco shoes, 1 Hoop Coat, 1 Hat, 4 pair plain Spanish shoes, 2 pair calf shoes, 1 mask, 1 fan, 1 necklace, 1 Girdle and buckle, 1 piece fashionable calico, 4 yards ribbon for knots, 1-1/2 yd. Cambric, 1 mantua and coat of lute-string."[143]

One New England miss, sent to a finishing school at Boston, had twelve silk gowns, but her teacher "wrote home that she must have another gown of a 'recently imported rich fabric,' which was at once bought for her because it was suitable for her rank and station."[144] Even the frugal Ben Franklin saw to it that his wife and daughter dressed as well as the best of them in rich gowns of silk. In the _Pennsylvania Gazette_ of 1750 there appeared the following advertisement: "Whereas on Saturday night last the house of Benjamin Franklin of this city, Printer, was broken open, and the following things feloniously taken away, viz., a double necklace of gold beads, a woman's long scarlet cloak almost new, with a double cape, a woman's gown, of printed cotton of the sort called brocade print, very remarkable, the ground dark, with large red roses, and other large and yellow flowers, with blue in some of the flowers, with many green leaves; a pair of women's stays covered with white tabby before, and dove colour'd tabby behind...."

It seems that in richness of dress Philadelphia led the colonial world, even outrivaling the expenditure of the wealthy Virginia planters for this item. While Philadelphia was the political and social center of the day this extravagance was especially noticeable; but when New York became the capital the Quaker city was almost over-shadowed by the gaiety displayed in dress by the Dutch city. "You will find here the English fashions," says St. John de Crevecoeur. "In the dress of the women you will see the most brilliant silks, gauzes, hats and borrowed hair.... If there is a town on the American continent where English luxury displayed its follies it was in New York."[145]

All the blame, however, must not be placed upon the shoulders of colonial dames. What else could the women do? They felt compelled to make an appearance at least equal to that of the men, and probably Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these men. Even the conservative Washington appeared on state occasions in "black velvet, a silver or steel hilted small sword at his left side, pearl satin waistcoat, fine linen and lace, hair full powdered, black silk hose, and bag."[146] Such finery was not limited to the ruling classes of the land; a Boston printer of the days immediately following the Revolution appeared in a costume that surpassed the most startling that Boston of our times could display. "He wore a pea-green coat, white vest, nankeen small clothes, white silk stockings, and pumps fastened with silver buckles which covered at least half the foot, from instep to toe. His small clothes were tied at the knees with ribbon of the same color in double bows, the ends reaching down to the ankles. His hair in front was well loaded with pomatum, frizzled or craped and powdered. Behind, his natural hair was augmented by the addition of a large queue called vulgarly a false tail, which, enrolled in some yards of black ribbon, hung half way down his back."[147]

Surely this is enough of the men; let us return to the women. See the future Dolly Madison at her first meeting with the "great, little Mr. Madison." She had lived a Quaker during her girlhood, but she grew bravely over it. "Her gown of mulberry satin, with tulle kerchief folded over the bosom, set off to the best advantage the pearly white and delicate rose tints of that complexion which constituted the chief beauty of Dolly Todd."[148] The ladies of the Tory class evidently tried to outshine those of the patriot party, and when there was a British function of any sort,--as was often the case at Philadelphia--the scene was indeed gay, with richly gowned matrons and maids on the arms of English officers, brave with gold lace and gold buttons. One great fête or festival known as the "Meschianza," given at Philadelphia, was so gorgeous a pageant that years afterwards society of the capital talked about it. Picture the costume of Miss Franks of Philadelphia on that occasion: "The dress is more ridiculous and pretty than anything I ever saw--great quantity of different colored feathers on the head at a time besides a thousand other things. The Hair dress'd very high in the shape Miss Vining's was the night we returned from Smiths--the Hat we found in your Mother's Closet wou'd be of a proper size. I have an afternoon cap with one wing--tho' I assure you I go less in the fashion than most of the Ladies--none being dress'd without a hoop...."[149]

And, again, perhaps the modern woman can appreciate the following description of a costume seen at the inaugural ball of 1789: "It was a plain celestial blue satin gown, with a white satin petticoat. On the neck was worn a very large Italian gauze handkerchief, with border stripes of satin. The head-dress was a pouf of satin in the form of a globe, the creneaux or head-piece which was composed of white satin, having a double wing in large pleats and trimmed with a wreath of artificial roses. The hair was dressed all over in detached curls, four of which in two ranks, fell on each side of the neck and were relieved behind by a floating chignon."[150]

Unlike the other first ladies of the day, Martha Washington made little effort toward ostentation, and her plain manner of dress was sometimes the occasion of astonishment and comment on the part of wives of foreign representatives. Says Miss Chambers concerning this contrast between European women and Mrs. Washington, as shown at a birthday ball tendered the President in 1795: "She was dressed in a rich silk, but entirely without ornament, except the animation her amiable heart gives to her countenance. Next her were seated the wives of the foreign ambassadors, glittering from the floor to the summit of their head-dress. One of the ladies wore three large ostrich feathers, her brow encircled by a sparkling fillet of diamonds; her neck and arms were almost covered with jewels, and two watches were suspended from her girdle, and all reflecting the light from a hundred directions."[151]

Nor was this richness of dress among foreign visitors confined to the women. Sally McKean, who became the wife of the Spanish minister to America, wore at one state function, "a blue satin dress, trimmed with white crape and flowers, and petticoat of white crape richly embroidered and across the front a festoon of rose color, caught up with flowers"; but her future husband had "his hair powdered like a snow ball; with dark striped silk coat lined with satin, black silk breeches, white silk stockings, shoes and buckles. He had by his side an elegant hilted small-sword, and his chapeau tipped with white feathers, under his arm."[152]

There were, of course, no fashion plates in that day, nor were there any "living models" to strut back and forth before keen-eyed customers; but fully dressed dolls were imported from France and England, and sent from town to town as examples of properly attired ladies. Eliza Southgate Bowne, after seeing the dolls in her shopping expeditions, wrote to a friend: "Caroline and I went a-shopping yesterday, and 'tis a fact that the little white satin Quaker bonnets, cap-crowns, are the most fashionable that are worn--lined with pink or blue or white--but I'll not have one, for if any of my old acquaintance should meet me in the street they would laugh.... Large sheer-muslin shawls, put on as Sally Weeks wears hers, are much worn; they show the form through and look pretty. Silk nabobs, plaided, colored and white are much worn--very short waists--hair very plain."

Of course, the men of the day, found a good deal of pleasure in poking fun at woman's use of dress and ornaments as bait for entrapping lovers, and many a squib expressing this theory appeared in the newspapers. These cynical notes no more represented the general opinion of the people than do similar satires in the comic sheets of to-day; but they are interesting at least, as showing a long prevailing weakness among men. The following sarcastic advertisement, for instance, was written by John Trumbull:

     "To Be Sold at Public Vendue, The Whole Estate of Isabella Sprightly, Toast and Coquette, (Now retiring from Business)

     "Imprimis, all the tools and utensils necessary for carrying on the trade, viz.: several bundles of darts and arrows well pointed and capable of doing great execution. A considerable quantity of patches, paint, brushes and cosmetics for plastering, painting, and white-washing the face; a complete set of caps, "a la mode a Paris," of all sizes, from five to fifteen inches in height; with several dozens of cupids, very proper to be stationed on a ruby lip, a diamond eye, or a roseate cheek.

     "Item, as she proposes by certain ceremonies to transform one of her humble servants into a husband and keep him for her own use, she offers for sale, Florio, Daphnis, Cynthio, and Cleanthes, with several others whom she won by a constant attendance on business during the space of four years. She can prove her indisputable right thus to dispose of them by certain deeds of gifts, bills of sale, and attestation, vulgarly called love letters, under their own hands and seals. They will be offered very cheap, for they are all of them broken-hearted, consumptive, or in a dying condition. Nay, some of them have been dead this half year, as they declare and testify in the above mentioned writing.

     "N.B. Their hearts will be sold separately."

When all the above implements and wiles failed to entrap a lover, and the coquette was left as a "wall-flower," as the Germans express it, the men of the day satirized the unfortunate one just as mercilessly. Read, for example, a few lines from the _Progress of Dullness_, thought to be a very humorous poem in its time:

    "Poor Harriett now hath had her day; No more the beaux confess her sway; New beauties push her from the stage; She trembles at the approach of age, And starts to view the altered face That wrinkles at her in her glass.

           *       *       *       *       *

    "Despised by all and doomed to meet Her lovers at her rivals' feet, She flies assemblies, shuns the ball, And cries out vanity, on all;

           *       *       *       *       *

    "Now careless grown of airs polite Her noon-day night-cap meets the sight; Her hair uncombed collects together With ornaments of many a feather.

           *       *       *       *       *

    "She spends her breath as years prevail At this sad wicked world to rail, To slander all her sex impromptu, And wonder what the times will come to."

During the earlier years of the seventeenth century, as we have noted, this deprecatory opinion by men concerning woman's garb was not confined to ridicule in journals and books, but was even incorporated into the laws of several towns and colonies. Women were compelled to dress in a certain manner and within fixed financial limits, or suffered the penalties of the courts. Many were the "presentations," as such cases were called, of our colonial ancestors. As material wealth increased, however, dress became more and more elaborate until in the era shortly before and after the Revolution fashions were almost extravagant. Costly satins, silks, velvets, and brocades were among the common items of dress purchased by even the moderately well-to-do city and planter folk. If space permitted, many quotations by travellers from abroad, accustomed to the splendor of European courts, could be presented to show the surprising quality and good taste displayed in the garments of the better classes of the New World. To their honor, however, it may be remembered that these same American women in the days of tribulation when their husbands were battling for a new nation were willing to cast aside such indications of wealth and pride, and don the humble homespun garments made by their own hands. 


 

Footnotes

[128] Fiske: _Old Virginia_, Vol. I, p. 246.

[129] Page 76.

[130] Smyth: _Writings of B. Franklin_, Vol. IV, p. 449.

[131] _Ibid._ Vol. III, p. 431.

[132] _Ibid._ Vol. III, p. 419.

[133] _Ibid._ Vol. III, p. 438.

[134] _Letters of A. Adams_, p. 282.

[135] _Letters of A. Adams_, p. 250.

[136] Wharton: _Martha Washington_, p. 227.

[137] Buckingham: _Reminiscences_, Vol. I, p. 34.

[138] Buckingham. Vol. I, p. 88.

[139] Buckingham, Vol. I, p. 115.

[140] _Ibid._

[141] Vol. II, p. 115.

[142] Wharton: _Martha Washington_, p. 59.

[143] Quoted in Earle: _Home Life in Colonial Days_, p. 290.

[144] Earle: _Home Life in Colonial Days_, p. 291.

[145] Wharton: _Through Colonial Doorways_, p. 89.

[146] Wharton: _M. Washington_, p. 225.

[147] Earle: _Home Life in Colonial Days_, p. 294.

[148] Goodwin: _Dolly Madison_, p. 54.

[149] Wharton: _Through Colonial Doorways_, p. 219.

[150] Wharton: _Through Colonial Doorways_, p. 79.

[151] Wharton: _Martha Washington_, p. 230.

[152] Crawford: _Romantic Days in the Early Republic_, p. 53.